All-Time Kid Favourite: Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
On my birthday, when I was a kid, I could choose whatever I wanted for all three meals. Two of them never changed: eggs benedict for breakfast and my mom's homemade macaroni and cheese for supper. I'm still a big fan of both, but that mac n' cheese was to die for. Of course, Mom made it on nights other than just my birthday, and every time she did, the entire pan got polished off by four ravenous children and two tired parents. It was also the dish she made when any of my slightly more picky friends came over for visits. Not a single kid could turn it down.
It has taken me some time to nail down that macaroni and cheese recipe. Most of the ones I tried were too dry or too mushy. After some experimentation and consultation with my mother, I believe I've figured it out. The key is not to cook the pasta fully while boiling and to make a generous quantity of cheese sauce. This recipe also freezes and reheats beautifully, so sometimes I divide it into two pans -- one for tonight, one for next week.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3-1/2 cups 2% or whole milk
3 cups grated Cheddar cheese
Salt to taste
Melt the butter in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Whisk in the flour and stir for 3 minutes -- the butter and flour should gently bubble and froth without colouring. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to get out all the lumps. Whisk until sauce is smooth and has the consistency of heavy cream, about 6 minutes.
Bring sauce to a simmer, whisking constantly, then maintain gentle simmer while whisking occasionally for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the grated cheese. Whisk until smooth. Season to taste with salt.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 lb (454 grams) pasta elbows, rotini, or penne rigate and cook, stirring occasionally until al dente, about 1 minute less than indicated on the package. (Pasta should be tender, barely sticking to your teeth when you bite.) Drain well and return to the pot.
Add cheese sauce to the pasta and mix gently to combine. Pour into greased 13x9-inch baking dish and evenly scatter 2 cups coarsely grated breadcrumbs, mixed with 1/2 cup grated Cheddar, over the top. If making ahead, cover with plastic wrap and foil, and place in freezer. Bake from frozen. If not making ahead, then bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes, until the top is golden. Serve immediately with lots of freshly ground pepper and/or ketchup on the side.
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